BY GEOFF HOBSON
In a bid to finish off their spring fling, the Bengals say they are willing to consider a short-term deal for Corey Dillon during their June 12 negotiating session. But with less than $2 million under the salary cap in the wake of the $72 million Willie Anderson and Peter Warrick deals, they want to know the status of their Pro Bowl running back by then. They have already sent him a letter invoking their right to offer him a one-year deal for $553,000 if he doesn't accept the one-year qualifying offer of $1.37 million by June 15.
"It might be a good compromise," said Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn today of a short-term deal. "It might be a way for him to get to a point where it will increase his value more by having a shorter deal. Who knows what the numbers will do in a couple of years?"
A media report saying the Bengals had agreed to terms with their third-round pick was premature, according to Jim Steiner, the agent for Ron Dugans.
The team would like an answer from Dillon in ten days. There are veteran free agents on the market they would at least consider if they can't cut a deal with Dillon.
"We have to know," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "We just can't go on in a state of limbo not knowing. We would like to make plans with Corey Dillon, or plans with others. We can't do both. We want to do a deal with Corey. If we can't do a deal, we need to know. We need to know where we stand with him beyond this year."
Dillon has threatened to sit out the first 10 games of the season before and after the club proposed a $3.6 million per year deal. But his agent, Marvin Demoff, has indicated his client is willing to listen. The Bengals have indicated they're willing to talk about a variety of deals, short or long.
One thing the Bengals won't put in any deal is a clause prohibiting the club from putting the franchise tag on Dillon once he becomes a free agent.
"We don't intend to," Brown said. "That's a precedent we don't want to set. We have as much right to the franchise tag as he does to free agency. How would he feel if we signed him to a two-year deal and asked him to give up his right to free agency from that point forward? That's how I feel about the tag. We have the right to it. It's been (collectively) bargained for. It's our consideration for things we wish were otherwise."
By the close of business today, the Bengals had yet to hear about the status of settlement talks between the NFL and NFL Players Association that may yield a decision on their franchise tag. The NFLPA has filed a grievance against the Bengals for the way they used the tag on Carl Pickens last season and wants the club to lose it for five years. But the Bengals are confident the case will get settled with the release of Pickens, or that they can win the case.
Bengals vice president Paul H. Brown, lead negotiator in the Dillon talks, said the one problem in a short deal is that there aren't enough years to prorate a big signing bonus.
"We're going to look at everything. We want to see what they're thinking," Paul Brown said. "A shorter deal is probably going to be more favorable for the club than the player because of the bonus. Most likely they're going to want the big bonus."